by Simon Daish
Russia knew heading into the tie that nothing less than a win over their Spanish guests in Verkhnyaya Pyshma would be enough to keep them in the hunt for top spot in the group, with Spain holding a match in hand advantage over the Russians.
The previous meeting between the two countries came on Tuesday 1st November 2016 where Spain came out on top with a 3-2 home success against Russia, and yet again the full match distance was required in penultimate round of qualifying as Spain completed the double over Russia in group I.
Alexander Shibaev gave Russia the perfect start to the tie with his straight games victory over Carlos Machado (7-11, 3-11, 3-11), but the match was soon turned on its head as Spain’s Alvaro Robles and Jesus Cantero saw off Alexey Liventsov (11-9, 11-7, 11-6) and Grigory Vlasov (12-10, 9-11, 11-6, 11-9) respectively to put the visitors 2-1 ahead.
Despite Alexander Shibaev going on to claim his second win of the tie with his fifth game triumph against Alvaro Robles (9-11, 11-8, 11-9, 8-11, 1-11), it was not to be for Russia as Carlos Machado beat Kirill Skachkov in the deciding match (7-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-9) to give Spain the 3-2 win.
Another team to qualify for the Men’s Championship Division was Portugal after the lineup of João Geraldo, Diogo Carvalho and Diogo Chen led their country to a 3-0 home win against Ukraine to take group F, while France brought its qualifying campaign to a close by maintaining its 100% winning record in group C with a 3-0 success at home against Italy.
Austria, Germany, Croatia, Sweden, Greece, Poland and Romania also registered victories in the penultimate qualifying round with the final group matches set to take place on Tuesday 7th March as the battle to qualify for the 2017 European Championships draws ever closer to its conclusion.